Apart from hunters, the State Forests are mentioned frequently in this series. This peculiar organisation is an unusual mix between a state institution tasked with managing the public property (that is, the forest) on behalf of the nation and a company making money from exploiting it. And if you don’t believe that, just look at what is happening in the Kłodzko Valley, where State Forests denied PTTK (Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society) the right to reroute two of the marked trails near Jagodna mountain hostel unless PTTK agrees to lease the forest from them.
Click HERE to read the previous part of the series
Click HERE to see all chapters of the series so far.
PTTK, while officially not allowed to mark the new trail, published directions on their website and in social media – as the State Forests cannot ban the public from entering the forest. The State Forests claim, that they don’t want to collect the rent, they just want for PTTK to manage the trails, clean rubbish and control if the trees alongside it are safe. As for now, the situation is at a stalemate, as PTTK can’t allow this situation to become a precedent: PTTK, while being one of the biggest and oldest tourist associations in the world, is still an NGO basing its finances mostly on the membership fees and focusing on providing tourists infrastructure for the public. While they are known for managing paths, especially in high mountains, to ensure tourists safety, this is carried often by volunteers and they have no capacity to monitor and manage every single bit of the road or path alongside their marked trails lead. At the same time by law State Forest have a duty to make the forests available to the public, so one could argue that it’s them who should be thankful to PTTK for marking the trails across the forest all over the country… Meanwhile not only they do not make it easy, as the above example shows, but they are also destroying existing tourist infrastructure, like the single-track mountain bike paths that are being severly damaged during logging operations.
But forest on the hills around Kłodzko Valley are not the only areas in Poland where one might have limited access. The neighbourhood in Żoliborz, district of Warsaw, where a house of Jarosław Kaczyński is located can also be tricky to navigate. The investigation by the reporters from TVN24found that at least 40 police officers are tasked solely with the monitoring of the surrounding streets. This is a significant change since last year when the investigative reporters found that 18 officers are solely on that duty. According to one of the cops who spoke with the reporters “after the media wrote about it, the uniformed officers have been removed and replaced by plainclothes ones. Soon we were back, though, in even greater numbers”. According to another, while plainclothes officers are sitting in two cars parked outside the back and front of Kaczyński’s house, the uniformed pedestrian patrols are placed within 50-100 metres from it and not allowed to leave the area. Nearby, there is also a police car with 4 officers in it on stand-by (which is unique, usually there are only two officers per car). And all despite the fact that Kaczyński has his own, private bodyguards (also paid indirectly by the taxpayer, as they are funded from his party budget) and, as a deputy prime minister, should be protected by the government services. Such a level of protection is unheard of, a retired Government Security officials said that even Polish government officials in war-torn Iraq had not been protected at such level.
Apart from Kaczyński’s home other areas where he likes to frequent are also under constant police supervision. The church where he goes for Sunday mass or the Smoleńsk victim’s monument on the Piłsudski square. This area had been illegally taken over Ministry of Defence under the pretext of national security (see more here) in order to place a monument there (again, illegally, as the city did not want to allow it – hence the hostile takeover). The monument has been for years protected, almost all the time, by a significant police force. During the monthly celebrations of the Smoleńsk crash, they are joined by soldiers, and the soldiers stealing the wreaths placed by the opposition members become a regular occurrence. Apparently, they got bored with it as well, so they don’t even wait for the opposition activists to leave the area, they remove them together with their wreath now:
Apparently according to PiS, this major square in the centre of Warsaw should be a private area of Jarosław Kaczyński, so he and his pals (and only them!) can place flowers there to celebrate their family and friends who died in the Smoleńsk crash (and only them!). Meanwhile, the opposition tried to reclaim that area back for the rest of the Poles – not only by placing their own wreaths under the monument but also by trying to use this area to commemorate victims of the COVID-19 pandemics. The crosses they paint there just like it has been done in Prague’s market square the other months are being repeatedly removed by the city cleaning services (see here) and the new attempts to paint them are being obstructed by the police, who tries to arrest people painting crosses with chalk or coal for vandalism (see here). This month to protect their tribute to the COVID-19 victims the activists kept vigil overnight, but in the early morning hours they were forcibly removed to make way for the Kaczyński and his entourage, so he can take over the area again as he does on every 10th of the month:
Kaczyńskiego ból jest większy niż nasz.
Dla niego o polityczno-obyczajowej @PolskaPolicja nie jest ważne 70712 ofiar #COVID19.
Krzyże i kwiaty, które mają zniknąć zostają wcześniej zdeptane policyjnymi buciorami.
Relacja @lotnabrygada pic.twitter.com/Dv6p7aRtXN
— Piotr #FBPE (@piotr4913) May 10, 2021
This situation is totally absurd and surreal and brings to mind the actions of the Orange Alternative during the last years of the communist regime, if not for the fact, that while Orange Alternative’s happenings were usually joyful and funny, all of this is very sad. And there is a certain irony that the whole Smoleńsk craze started with the pro-PiS people illegally placing the cross outside the presidential palace and PiS being outraged when the city removed it to the nearby church (you might read more on that story in English on Wikipedia). Now it’s themselves, who fight the crosses being placed in the public space…
But perhaps there is hope. As the Orange Alternative was a sign of the communist regime crumbling, perhaps the absurdity of the battle to reclaim Piłsudski’s square to the Poles is also a sign of the things to change. The European Tribunal of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled, to a surprise of nobody, that PiS’s puppet Constitutional Tribunal ran by Julia Przyłebska is not a “tribunal established by law”, as it contains illegitimately appointed judges. In a response to this outrageous attack on the Polish values, Julia Przyłębska deemed the European Tribunal of Human Rights to be unconstitutional… No, I am joking (I think, I haven’t checked, would not be surprised if she really did that).
This is a game-changer though, at that means that each ruling in which illegally appointed judges participated can be considered invalid – and that includes a recent ban on abortion. And there is an irony that this ruling came as a result of the private company trying to fight the hunting lobby, pointing out that hunting laws are unconstitutional – the Constitutional Tribunal took the side of the hunters, but the jury included illegally appointed judge, so the case ended up in Strasbourg and, although PiS still denies this ruling is of any consequences to them, it is in fact a devastating blow to their “reform” of the judicial system.
The government’s medical advisor on Coronavirus is also indifferent when it comes to some petty legalities. Recently he took part in the advertisement for the face masks, despite the law saying that medical doctors cannot take parts in any advertisement, but according to him it was alright because he advertised “Polish product of a Polish company”. But the whole advertising campaign might be in vain, as a significant change in the government rules took place: from now on, people don’t have to wear a mask outdoors, but a new rule forcing everyone to wear single time gloves has been introduced. Apparently, some pal of someone in the government managed to buy a few containers of those cheaply…
Because the government takes care of their own. Like when they have sent a plane to India to evacuate a Polish diplomat and his family. The government media portrayed it as a big rescue operation and a great success of the government, saying that his condition was critical. But when it has emerged that he was actually in pretty good condition and was released from the hospital just a couple of days later, the media started asking the question about why over 30 Polish diplomats, who got infected with COVID while abroad, only this one had a special treatment. And the answer surprised no one: this particular member of the diplomatic corps happened to be a nephew of one of the most important PiS politicians. Those reporters who were too nosy about it have been threatened with the prosecution for “making personal information public”. The government now also claims that it was not a special operation, and the diplomat and his family simply got a lift on a regular PLL LOT cargo flight to India. To prove that, they have repatriated another couple of diplomats – one of them from the Czech Republic – with their next flight.
Meanwhile, Matura exams are taking place. This year’s students had it tough, as first, they faced overcrowding in the schools caused by the ill-conducted reforms of the schooling system that resulted in doubling the numbers of students at the year below them, and then they spent last year studying from home due to COVID-19. As it happens quite often, their examination questions were leaked, which can be seen from the google trends, as the students, especially in North-West Poland were googling the topics from the early morning. After the rumour spread that users of the popular social site wykop.pl (Polish equivalent of reddit.com) are in possession of the leaked questions, the matura exam students flooded the portal begging regular users for them. Those took advantage of the situation in many ways – from innocent pranks to regular extortion.
Many of the students hoping to be able to cheat logged using their Facebook account, thus revealing their real personality. In my view, the ministry of education should look into that and act accordingly. The official name of the Matura exam in Polish is “maturity test”. If you agreed to send a stranger money, your selfie in a colander or your tits over the internet, under your own name, then surely you failed, no matter what you wrote in your essay about Wyspiański’s drama…
This text was written for Britské Listy
Picture: Barron Squirell via Flickr (CC 2.0).
Picture is not directly related to the recent events on Wykop.pl